The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Director: David Zucker
Screenplay:Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Pat Proft
Stars: Leslie Nielsen (Lt. Frank Drebin), Priscilla Presley (Jane Spencer), George Kennedy(Capt. Ed Hocken), Ricardo Montalban (Vincent Ludwig), O.J. Simpson (Nordberg), RayeBirk (Pahpshmir), Susan Beaubian (Mrs. Nordberg), Nancy Marchand (Mayor), JeannetteCharles (Queen Elizabeth II), Ed Williams (Ted Olsen)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1988
Country: USA
Naked Gun Poster

"The Naked Gun" was taken from a short-lived 1982 TV series called "Police Squad!," whichwas the brainchild of the celebrated guerilla comedy team of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, andDavid Zucker, who had gained notoriety and acclaim for their Kentucky Fried Theaterthroughout the 1970s before breaking into film with "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (1977)and "Airplane!" (1980). "Police Squad!" was of the same brand of comedy as theirmovies--that is, an endless stream of sight gags, throwaway jokes, and pun-inflicted dialoguemeant to parody well-established entertainment genres and social conventions.

Yet, for whatever reason, the show didn't do well, and ABC pulled the plug after a mere fourepisodes. One theory is that it was simply ahead of its time in the way it required close viewerattention to get all the jokes and had no laugh track to tell them what was funny and when. Inother words, it confirmed the glance theory of television viewing: that people don't pay strictattention to TV, rather they use it as background while doing other things.

At any rate, if the TV show was a brilliant failure, the later movie franchise did exceedinglywell. Released in 1988, "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" marked thereturn of the ZAZ team to their roots in guerilla comedy. After making "Airplane!" and "TopSecret!" (1984), they ventured into more mainstream comedy by directing "Ruthless People"(1986). And, while they have all gone on to work independently on different kinds of projects(Jerry Zucker, of all people, directed the wildly popular supernatural romance "Ghost" in1990), they remain the best team of guerilla comedians.

The reason their films work is that, despite all the outrageous comedy and raunchy bathroomjokes, they create endearing characters that are likable. This is what separates their work frommore recent guerilla comedy films like "Scary Movie" (2000) that push the taste envelope, butforget to hang the jokes on developed characters the audience can care about.

"The Naked Gun" centers on Lt. Frank Drebin, played with deadpan sincerity by LeslieNielsen, who was a serious actor in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s until the ZAZ team cast him as adoctor in "Airplane!" and changed the course of his career forever. Nielsen proved to have theperfect demeanor for Lt. Drebin, a combination of absurd confidence and hilarious naivete.Drebin is a walking disaster in every sense of the word, and out of his mouth comes anendless procession of nonsequiturs, bad puns, and wildly inappropriate comments. No matterwhat the situation, one can be sure that Drebin will say the wrong thing. Yet, he is utterlyendearing. You can't help but like him and root for him.

"The Naked Gun" is essentially a spoof of television cop shows and old film noir, completewith the clumsy voice-over narration and Ira Newborn's wonderfully adroit theme music thatcaptures the essence of TV crime dramas. In this film, Queen Elizabeth II of England isvisiting Los Angeles, and Drebin's Police Squad unit is charged with her protection. Asalways, Drebin literally stumbles on a scheme by a wealthy businessman named VincentLudwig (the always excellent Ricardo Montalban) to assassinate the Queen. Meanwhile,Drebin becomes romantically involved with Ludwig's personal assistant, Jane (PriscillaPresley). The seduction scene in which Jane cooks dinner for Drebin by boiling him a roast("How hot and wet do you like it?") is a scene of pure inspiration.

From beginning to end, the movie is absolutely hilarious, with rarely a missed opportunity.The casting of Oscar-winner George Kennedy ("Cool Hand Luke") as Drebin's policecaptain was a stroke of genius, as was the surprise casting of the venerable John Housemanin a cameo as a driving instructor (the use of a pre-infamous O.J. Simpson as Drebin'swounded partner Nordberg may make some viewers a little queasy).

"The Naked Gun" represents the ZAZ team at the top of their game. It's raunchy enough topush some buttons (the scene with Drebin hanging from a certain private piece of a statue'sanatomy is so funny it hurts), but not so gross that it overwhelms itself, which is the mistakemade by too many envelop-pushing comedies today.

The Naked Gun: From the Files ofPolice Squad! DVD

AudioDolby Digital 5.1 Surround
LanguagesEnglish (5.1)
ExtrasAudio commentary by directorDavid Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and host Peter Tilden
Original theatrical trailer

The new anamorphic widescreen transfer is a tad grainy, butoverall it looks very good. The anamorphic treatment allows for a much higher level ofresolution that is critical to films like "The Naked Gun" because so many of the jokes aresmall things going on in the background that might be missed. Colors are nicely saturatedand blacks levels appear solid.

The newly remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack isnot particularly active except when Ira Newborn's theme music kicks in. His music isnicely broken up and given strong directionality so that certain parts of the music are veryclearly in the background while other parts are kept in the front. It does a good job ofhighlighting Newborn's score, which is an integral part of the spoof. Dialogue is kept in thefront soundstage and is always clear and audible.

The main supplement is a running audio commentary with directorDavid Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and host Peter Tilden, which is exactly what youwould expect from the guys who made "The Naked Gun." For the most part, they spendtheir time cracking jokes, and they are admittedly very funny. They do have someinteresting insights into their particular brand of filmmaking, and they are open about wherethey borrowed jokes and what they think worked best. They deal with the whole O.J.issue right up front ... by making jokes about him, what else? They clearly feel no loyaltyto their actor, as Zucker comments during a scene that depicts O.J. dressed all in blacksneaking around a dock, "Is that actual footage or is this the movie?" They also discuss thefailed TV series on which the movie was based (Zucker believes the show failed because itwas ahead of its time). The DVD also features the original theatrical trailer in anamorphicwidescreen.

©2000 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3.5)

James Kendrick

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